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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesQuisante - Chapter 4. He's Coming!
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Quisante - Chapter 4. He's Coming! Post by :84xads Category :Long Stories Author :Anthony Hope Date :May 2012 Read :1763

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Quisante - Chapter 4. He's Coming!

CHAPTER IV. HE'S COMING!

Dick Benyon was a man of plentiful ideas, but he found great difficulty in conveying them to others and even in expressing them to himself. Jimmy, his faithful disciple, could not help him here, and indeed was too much ashamed of harbouring such things as ideas to be of any service as an apostle. All the ideas were not Dick's own; in the case of the Imperial League, for example, he merely floated on the top of the flood-tide of opinion, and even the Crusade, his other and dearer pre-occupation, was the fruit of the Dean of St. Neot's brain as much as or even more than of his own. The Dean never got the credit of having ideas at all, first because he did not look like it, being short, stout, ruddy, and apparently very fond of his dinner, secondly because he never talked of his ideas to women. Mrs. Baxter did not care about ideas and possibly the Dean generalised rashly. More probably, perhaps, he had contracted a prejudice against talking confidentially to women from observing the ways of some of his brethren; he had dropped remarks which favoured this explanation. Anyhow he lost not only the soil most fruitful for propagation, but also the surest road to a reputation. Of the idea of the Crusade he was particularly careful to talk to men only; women, he felt sure, would tell him it was superb, and his wish was to be confronted with its difficulties and its absurdities, to overcome this initial opposition only with a struggle, and to enlist his antagonist as a fellow-warrior; he had especial belief in the persuasiveness of converts. Unluckily, however, as a rule only the first part of the programme passed into fact; he got the absurdities and difficulties pointed out freely enough, the conversions hung fire. Dick Benyon was almost the sole instance of the triumphant carrying-out of the whole scheme; but though Dick could believe and work, and could make Jimmy believe and nearly make Jimmy work, he could not preach himself nor make Jimmy preach in tones commanding enough to engage the respect and attention of the world. Who could then? Dick had answered "Weston Marchmont;" the Dean shook his head confidently but wistfully; he would have liked but did not expect to find a convert there.

Weston Marchmont made, as might be expected, the Great Refusal, although not in the impressive or striking manner which such a phrase may seem to imply. Twisting his claret glass in his long thin fingers, he observed with low-voiced suavity that in ecclesiastical matters, as doubtless in most others, he was behind the times; he was a loyal Establishment man and had every intention of remaining such, and for his own part he found it possible to reconcile the ultimate postulates of faith with the ultimate truths of science. As soon as ultimates came on the scene, the Dean felt that the game was up; the Crusade depended on an appeal to classes which must be reached, if they could be reached at all, by something far short of ultimates. Ultimates were for the few; one reason, among others, why Marchmont fondly affected them. Marchmont proceeded to remark that in his doubtless out-of-date view the best thing was to preserve the traditions and the traditional limits of Church work and Church influence. He did not say in so many words that the Church was a good servant but a bad master, yet Dick and the Dean gathered that this was his opinion, and that he would look with apprehension on any movement directed to bringing ecclesiastical pressure to bear on secular affairs. In all this he assumed politely that the Crusade could succeed, but the lift of his brows which accompanied the concession was very eloquent.

"Then," he ended apologetically, "there's the danger of vulgarity. One puts up with that in politics, but I confess I shrink from it in religion."

"What appeals to everybody is not necessarily vulgar," said the Dean.

"Not necessarily," Marchmont agreed, with the emphasis on the second word. "But," he added, "it's almost of necessity untrue, and after all religion has to do with truth." He was getting near his ultimates again.

There was a pause; then Marchmont laughed and said jokingly,

"You'll have to go to the Radicals, Dick. They're the dogmatic party nowadays, and they'll be just as ready to manage your soul for you as they are your property."

"That's just what I don't mean to do," said Dick obstinately. But he looked a little uncomfortable. It was important to preserve the attitude that fighting the Radicals was no part of the scheme of the Crusade. Marchmont smiled at the Dean across the table.

"I love the Church, Mr. Dean," he said, "but I'm afraid of the churchmen."

"Much what I feel about politics and politicians."

"Then if churchmen are politicians too----?" Marchmont suggested; the Dean's laughter admitted a verbal defeat. But when Marchmont had gone he shook his head over him again, saying, "He'll not be great; he's much too sane."

"He's too scrupulous," said Dick. The Dean protested with a smile. "I mean too fastidious," Dick added, correcting himself.

"Yes, yes, too fastidious," agreed the Dean contentedly. "And when I said sane perhaps I rather meant cautious, unimaginative, and cold." Both felt the happier for the withdrawal of their hastily chosen epithets.

This conversation had occurred in the early days of Dick's acquaintance with Alexander Quisante, when, although already much taken with the man, he had a clearer view of what he was than enthusiasm allowed later on. Rejecting Marchmont, or rather acquiescing in Marchmont's refusal, on the ground of his excessive caution, his want of imagination, and his fastidiousness, he had hesitated to sound Quisante in regard to the great project. It seemed to him impossible to regard his new friend as an ideal leader for this purpose; one reason is enough to indicate--the ideal leader should be absolutely unselfish by nature. By nature Quisante was very far from that, and his circumstances were not such as to enable him to overcome the bent of his disposition; whatever else he was or might become, he would be self-seeking too, and it would be impossible ever to make him steadily and deliberately forgetful of himself.

But as time went on, another way opened before Dick's eyes and was cautiously and tentatively hinted at to his confidant, the Dean. The Dean, having seen a little and heard much of Quisante, was inclined to be encouraging. There were in him possibilities not to be found in Marchmont. He was not fastidious, he would not trouble himself or other people about ultimates, above all he could be fired with imagination. Once that was achieved, he would speak and seem as though he were all that the ideal leader ought to be, as though inspiration filled him; he would express what Dick could only feel and the Dean do no more than adumbrate; nay, in time, as he grew zealous in the cause, his self-interest and personal ambition would be conquered, or at least would be so blended and fused with the nobility of the cause as to lose any grossness or meanness which might be thought to characterise them in an uncompounded condition. All this might be achieved if only the great idea could be made to seem great enough and the potentialities which lay in its realisation invested with enough pomp and dignity. After all was not such a blend of things personal and things beyond and higher than the personal as much as could reasonably be expected from human beings, and adequate to the needs of a work-a-day world?

"I don't want to be a bishop, but I do mean to stick to my deanery through thick and thin," said the Dean, smiling. Dick understood him to mean that allowance must be made for the personal element, and that a man might serve a cause very usefully without being prepared to go quite as far as the stake, or even the workhouse, for it; if this were not so, there would be less competition for places in State and Church.

Such great schemes for causing right ideas to prevail in things spiritual and temporal and for placing the right men in the right positions to ensure this important result are material here only so far as they influence the career or illustrate the character of individuals. The Crusade did not perhaps do as much towards altering the face of the world, or even of this island, as it was intended to, but it had a considerable, if temporary, effect on current politics, and it appeared to Quisante to be at once a fine conception and a notable opportunity; between these two aspects he did not, as Dick Benyon had foreseen, draw any very rigid line. To make the Church again a power with the masses; this done, to persuade the masses to use their power under the leadership of the Church; this done, to harmonise unimpaired liberty of conscience with a whole-hearted devotion to truth, and to devote both to ends which should unite the maximum of zeal for the Community with the minimum of political innovation, were aims which, if they were nothing else, might at least claim to be worthy to exercise the intellect of superior men and to inspire the eloquence of orators. That a set of people on the other side was professing to do the same things, with totally different and utterly wrong notions of the results to be obtained, afforded the whet of antagonism, and let in dialectic and partisanship as a seasoning to relieve the high severity of the main topic. Quisante's personal relations with the Church had never been intimate; he was perhaps the better able to lay hold of its romantic and picturesque aspect. The Dean, for instance, was hampered and at times discouraged by a knowledge of details. Dick Benyon had to struggle against the family point of view as regarded the family livings. Quisante came almost as a stranger, ready to be impressed, to take what suited him, to form the desired opinion and no other; if a legal metaphor may be allowed, to master what was in his brief, to use that to the full, and to know nothing to the contrary. The Empire was very well, but it was a crowded field; the new subject had advantages all its own and especial allurements.

Yet Miss Quisante laughed, as a man's relatives often will although the rest of the world is unimpeachably grave. For any person engaged in getting a complete view of Alexander Quisante it was well to turn from Dick Benyon to Aunt Maria. So May Gaston found when she took the old woman at her word and went to see her, unaccompanied by Lady Attlebridge. She listened awhile to her caustic talk and then charged her roundly with not doing justice to her nephew.

"Sandro's caught you too, has he?" was her hostess's immediate retort.

"No, he hasn't caught me, as you call it, Miss Quisante," said May, smiling. "I dislike a great deal in him." She paused before adding, "What's more, I've told him so."

"He'll be very pleased at that."

"He didn't seem to be."

"I didn't say he was pleased, I said he would be," remarked Aunt Maria placidly. "No doubt you vexed him at the time, but when he's thought it over, he'll be flattered at your showing so much interest in him."

"I shouldn't like him to take it like that," said May thoughtfully.

"It's the true way to take it, though."

"Well then, I suppose it is. Except that there's no reason why my interest should flatter anybody." She determined on an offensive movement against the sharp confident old lady. "All his faults are merely faults of bringing up. You brought him up; why didn't you bring him up better?"

Miss Quisante looked at her for several moments.

"I didn't bring him up well, that's true enough," she said. "But, my dear, don't you run off with the idea that there's nothing wrong with Sandro except his manners."

"That's exactly the idea I have about him," May persisted defiantly.

"Ah!" sighed Aunt Maria resignedly. "Probably you'll never know him well enough to find out your mistake."

Warnings pique curiosity as often as they arouse prudence.

"I intend to know him much better if he'll let me," said May.

"Oh, he'll let you." The old lady's gaze was very intent; she had by now made up her mind that this must be Sandro's Empress. Had she been omnipotent, she would at that moment have decreed that Sandro should never see his Empress again; she was quite clear that he and his Empress would not be good for one another. "I begin to hear them talking about him," she went on with a chuckle. "He's coming into fashion, he's to be the new man for a while. You London people love a new man just as you do a new craze. You're fine talkers too. I like your buzz. It's a great hum, hum, buzz, buzz. It turns some men's heads, but it only sharpens others' wits; it won't turn Sandro's head."

"I'm glad you allow him some virtues."

"Oh, if it's a virtue to look so straight forward to where you mean to get that nothing will turn your head away from it."

"That's twisting your own words, Miss Quisante. I don't think he's that sort of man at all; he isn't the least your--your iron adventurer. He's full of emotion, of feeling, of--well, almost of poetry. Oh, not always good poetry, I know. But how funny that I should be defending him and you attacking him; it would be much more natural the other way round."

"I don't see that. I know him better than you do. Now he's to champion the Church--or some such nonsense! What's Sandro got to do with your Church? What does he care about it?"

"He cared about his subject the other evening; you must admit that."

"Oh, his subject! Yes, he cares about it while it's his subject."

May laughed. "I want to take just one liberty, Miss Quisante," she said. "May I? I want to tell you that I think you're a great deal more than half wrong about your nephew."

"Even if I am, I'm right enough for practical purposes with the other part," said the obstinate old woman. She leant forward and spoke with a sudden bitter emphasis. "It's not all outside, he's wrong inside too."

"It's too bad of you, oh, it really is," cried May indignantly. "You who ought to stand up for him and be his greatest friend!"

"Oh, yes, I see! I've overshot my mark. I'm a blunderer."

"Your mark? What mark? Why do you want to tell me about him at all?"

"I don't," said Miss Quisante, folding her hands in her lap and assuming an air of resolute reticence. But her eyes dwelt now with an imperfectly disguised kindness on the tall fair girl who pleaded for justice and saw no justice in the answers that she got. But the more Aunt Maria inclined to like May Gaston, the more determined was she not to palter with truth, the more determined to have no hand in giving the girl a false idea of Sandro. So far as lay in her power, Sandro's Empress should know the whole truth about Sandro.

The buzz of London, to which Miss Quisante referred as beginning to sound her nephew's name, revealed to the ear three tolerably distinct notes. There were the people who laughed and said the thing was no affair of theirs; this section was of course the largest, embracing all the naturally indifferent as well as the solid mass of the opposite political party. There were the people who were angry at Dick Benyon's interference and at his _protege's impudence; in the ranks of these were most of Dick's political comrades, together with their wives and daughters. Here the resentment was at the idea that there was any vacancy, actual or prospective, which could not be filled perfectly well without the intrusion of such a person as Quisante. Thirdly there was the small but gradually growing group which inclined to think that there was something in Dick's notions and a good deal in his friend's head. A reinforcement came no doubt from the persons who were naturally prone to love the new and took up Quisante as a welcome change, as something odd, with a flavour of the unknown and just a dash of the mystery-man about him.

The Quisante-ites had undoubtedly something to say for themselves and something to show for their faith. Handicapped as he was by his sensational success at the Imperial League dinner, with its theatrical and faintly suspicious climax, Quisante had begun well in the House. He broke away from his mentor's advice; Dick had been for more sensation, for storming the House; Quisante rejected the idea and made a quiet, almost hesitating, entry on the scene. He displayed here a peculiarity which soon came to be remarked in him; on public occasions and in regard to public audiences he possessed a tact and a power of understanding the feelings of his company which entirely and even conspicuously failed him in private life. The House did not like being stormed, especially on the strength of an outside reputation; he addressed it modestly, bringing into play, however, resources with which he had not been credited--a touch of humour and a pretty turn of sarcasm. He knew his facts too, and disposed of contradictions with a Blue-book and a smile. The hypercritical were not silenced; Marchmont still found the smile oily, and his friends traced the humour to districts which they supposed to lie somewhere east of the London Hospital; but they were bound to admit sorrowfully that, although all this was true, it might not, under democratic institutions, prove fatal to a career.

Dick Benyon was enthusiastic; he told his friend that he had scored absolutely off his own bat and that there was and could be no more question of help or obligation. He was rather surprised by a display of feeling on Quisante's part which seemed to indicate almost an excess of gratitude; but Quisante felt his foot on the ladder, and the wells of emotion were full to overflowing. Dick escaped in considerable embarrassment, telling himself that remarkable men could not be expected to behave just like other men, like his sort of man, but wishing they would. None the less he praised what he hardly liked, and the reputation of being a good friend was added to Quisante's credentials. Lastly, but far from least in importance, a story went the rounds that a very great veteran, who had taken a keen interest in Weston Marchmont, and designated him for high place in a future not remote, had recently warned him, in apparent jest indeed but with unmistakable significance, that it would not do to take things too easily, or let a rival obtain too long a start. There was nobody of whom the Statesman could be supposed to be thinking, except the dark horse that Dick Benyon had brought into the betting--Alexander Quisante! Such predictions from such quarters have no small power of self-verification; they predispose lesser men to a fatalistic acquiescence which smoothes the way of the prophecy.

Marchmont, scorning the rival, was inclined to despise the dangers of the contest, but his supineness may have been in part due to the occupation of his mind by another interest. He had come to the conclusion that he wanted May Gaston for his wife and that she would accept his proposal. A few days before the Easter holidays began he betook himself to Lady Attlebridge's with the intention of settling the matter there and then. The purpose of his coming seemed to be divined; he was shown direct to May's own room, and found her there alone. She had been reading a letter and laid it down on a table by her; Marchmont could not help his eye catching the large printed address at the head of the sheet of paper, "Ashwood." Ashwood was Dick Benyon's country place. A moment later May explained the letter.

"I've had a wail from Amy Benyon," she said. "She wants me to go to them for Easter and comfort her. Look what she writes: "You must come, dear. I must be helped through, I must have a refuge. How in the world I ever did such a thing I don't know! But I did and I can't help it now. He's coming! So you must come. We expect the Baxters and Mr. Morewood. But I want _you_.""

"What has she done? Who's coming?" asked Marchmont.

"Mr. Quisante."

He paused for a moment before he said, "You won't go, I suppose?"

"I must go if Amy wants me as much as that. Besides--well, perhaps it'll be interesting."

A chill fell on Marchmont, and its influence spread to his companion. Here at least he had hoped to be rid of Quisante, to find a place where the man could not be met, and people to whom the man was as a friend impossible. May read his thoughts, but her purpose wavered. She liked him very much; that hot rebellious fit, which made her impatient of his limits, was not on her now. He had found her in a more reasonable normal mood, when his advantages pleaded hard for him, and the limits seemed figments of a disorderly transient fancy. Thus he had come happily, and success had been in the mood to kiss his standards.

"I wonder you can endure the man in the same house with you," he said.

She made no answer except to smile, and he spoke no more of Quisante. To him it seemed that his enemy passed then and there from thought, as his name disappeared from the conversation. But his own words had raised difficulties and turned the smooth path rough. They had renewed something of the rebellious fit and given fresh life to the disorderly fancies. They had roused her ready apprehensive pride, her swift resentment at the idea of having her friends or her associates chosen for her. She would have said most sincerely then that Marchmont was far more to her in her heart than Quisante was or could be, but neither from Marchmont nor from any man would she take orders to drop Quisante. While he opened his tale of love, her fingers played with the invitation to Ashwood and her eyes rested on Lady Richard's despairing declaration of the inevitable--"He's coming!"

He almost won her; his soft "Can you love me?" went very near her heart. She wanted to answer "Yes" and felt sure that it would be in reality a true response, and that happiness would wait on and reward the decisive word. But she was held back by an unconquerable indecision, a refusal (as it seemed) of her whole being to be committed to the pledge. She had not resented the confidence of his wooing--she had given him some cause to be confident; she pitied and even hated the distress into which her doubt threw him. Yet she could do no more than say "I don't know yet." He moved away from her.

"You'd better go away and leave me altogether," she said.

"I won't do that. I can't."

"I can say nothing else--I don't know yet. You must give me time."

"Ah, you mean 'yes'!" His voice grew assured again and joyful.

She weighed the words in which she answered him.

"No. If I meant yes, I'd say it. I wouldn't shilly-shally. I simply don't know yet."

He left her and paced the length of the room, frowning. Her hesitation puzzled him; he failed to trace its origin and fretted against a barrier that he felt but could not see. She sat silent, looking at him in a distressed fashion and restlessly fingering Lady Richard's invitation. She was no less troubled than he and almost as puzzled; for the feeling that held her back even while she wanted to go forward was vague, formless, empty of anything definite enough to lay hold of and bring forward as the plea that justified her wavering.

"I ought to say no, since I can't say yes. This isn't fair to you," she murmured.

He protested that anything was better than no, and his protest was manifestly eager and sincere; but a touch of resentment could not be kept out of his voice. She should have a reason to give him, something he could combat, disprove, or ridicule; she gave him no opening, he could not answer an objection that she would not formulate. He pressed this on her and she made no attempt to defend herself, merely repeating that she could not say yes now.

"I've lost you, I suppose, and no doubt I shall be very sorry," she said.

At that he came up to her again.

"You haven't lost me and you never will," he said. "I'll come to you again before long. I think you're strange to-day, not quite yourself, not quite the old May. It's as if something had got between us. Well, I'll wait till it gets out of the way again."

Not so much his words as his voice and his eyes told her of a love deeper in him and stronger than she had given him credit for; he lived so much in repression and exercised so careful a guard over any display of feeling. She liked the repression no less than the feeling and was again drawn towards him.

"I wish I could," she murmured. "Honestly, I wish I could."

He pressed her no more; if he had, she might possibly at last have given a reluctant assent. That he would not have, even had it been in his power to gain it.

"I'll come back--after the holidays," he said.

She looked up and met his glance.

"Yes, after the holidays," she repeated absently.

"You go to Ashwood?"

There was a pause before she answered. It came into her mind suddenly that it would have been strange to go to Ashwood as Weston Marchmont's promised wife. Why she could not quite tell; perhaps because such a position would set her very much outside of all that was being thought and talked of there, indeed in a quasi-antagonism to it. Anyhow the position would make her feel quite differently towards it all.

"Yes," she answered at last, and mustered a laugh as she added, "I'm not so particular as you, you know. And Amy wants me."

"I wish you always did what people want you to," said he, smiling.

Their parting was in this lighter vein, although on his side still tender and on hers penitent. In both was a consciousness of not understanding, of being somehow apart, of an inexplicable difficulty in taking one another's point of view. The solution of sympathy, the break that May had talked of, made itself apparent again. In spite of self-reproaches, her strongest feeling, when she was left alone, was of joy that her freedom still was hers.

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